I tend to try and watch WWE Network’s weekly shows – NXT, NXT UK, 205 Live – in mini binges of three episodes at a time; I tend to get the most storytelling bang for buck out of them this way. As fate would have it, I was watching the three episodes of NXT that immediately followed Takeover: Phoenix on Friday night with a few beers, the second of which was main evented by Adam Cole and Ricochet. And it was at exactly the moment Full Sail was swathed in darkness, when The One and Only’s epic sounding theme music hit and his unique lightshow entrance began that it really struck me how much of a star Ricochet actually is. Further to this, it really hammered home the folly of the way the NXT “Gang of Four” were thrust, with no warning, ice cold, onto the main roster in the aftermath of Elimination Chamber, in front of two of the deader crowds you’ll see. Can you imagine the reaction Ricochet’s light show would have got on a post-Wrestlemania Raw? The roof would come off the place. Instead, he was given a tag match and an awkward post-match celebration alongside Finn Balor, after which they hung out backstage with Ricochet dressed weirdly like a youth pastor. And truthfully, are you really going to be able to show the more casual audience what Ricochet is all about in the limited confines of a basic TV tag match? It was terrible planning, terrible booking, and the wrestling world has rightly been sceptical about the timing and execution of the call ups (see my colleague Imp’s column here).
What I’m driving at here,and what the case of Ricochet really drove home to me, is that WWE have an inherent problem with recognising the break out stars already in their midst, just waiting to be given an opportunity. We are just over a week removed from the depressing reveal of Batista as a Wrestlemania opponent for Triple H. As ‘Plan wrote here, we’re talking about a match between a businessman and a Hollywood actor, both of whom are hovering around the 50 mark, and let us not forget that many fans were not born when Evolution were formed, were not born when they imploded, and some of the newest fans might not even recall the Ric Flair-less version of the stable battling The Shield in 2014. Bringing in Batista was particularly distressing for me personally; having been on the “no more part timers” bandwagon from the very beginning, I was finally cherishing hope that the worst case scenario we would get was Lesnar finally dropping the Universal Championship to Seth Rollins, some Miz vs Shane nonsense, and Ronda Rousey defending against Charlotte Flair and Becky Lynch. Three matches featuring part timers, but all three also featuring contemporary, full time talents – I could’ve lived with that. Instead, it’s clear that someone on high – Vince – decided that Wrestlemania did not have sufficient star power, and booked Dave accordingly. And so, another year passes where Wrestlemania is a museum for relics, and the men and women that should be elevated by the biggest night in the wrestling calendar wait in the wings.
I’ve been through the arguments against part timers at Wrestlemania so many times in my columns on this website that I won’t repeat them yet again; what I really want to focus on here is why Wrestlemania and other big four events should be the stage to create the stars they already have, rather than tarnish the legacies of those who went before (history will not be kind to The Undertaker or Triple H in this respect). I’ve already outlined how Ricochet has dollar signs written all over him; imagine if that guy got a huge push out of the gate? He’s in his prime, an athletic marvel, well spoken, likeable, charismatic and a really smart worker to boot (see the aforementioned Adam Cole match, where an injured leg stopped him flying around the ring, so he brought out the suplexes and won that way. That my friends is what I call psychology). Andrade ‘Cien’ Almas (I refuse to use the bastardised form of his name they are now using!) was called up last year and given nothing to do, until an electric TV feud with Rey Mysterio reminded everybody what he could do. And just LOOK at the guy. Handsome, oozes charisma, a demon in the ring. He’s the perfect modern day heel. Furthermore, Mustafa Ali has shown by grinding week after week on 205 Live, developing his character, building his fanbase, what can happen when you debut someone effectively. His work opposite Bryan was potentially setting him up for an unlikely Wrestlemania main event until injury intervened. Honestly Vince, WWE don’t have stars? You’re insane.
It should probably go without saying, of course, that if you don’t expose your stars to the widest audience, they’ll never be mega-stars. In the past, this was well understood; Roddy Piper was in a Hollywood Backlot Brawl at Wrestlemania XII to pop the midcard; he was not in the main event wrestling Bret Hart for the title. As bizarre as it sounds, if Bret and Shawn were around today, it’s likely that each would have wrestled a part timer at Wrestlemania rather than each other. So just think, when you see Batista dragging a cameraman around backstage to capture his mugging of Ric Flair, imagine if that was Tommaso Ciampa instead, what an instant, star making moment that would be, and imagine how much better the match quality would be if Ciampa were the next man to play The Game. Now, it has come out in the last few hours that the self-proclaimed Greatest Sports Entertainer of all time is actually in need of neck surgery, but the hypothetical scenario remains all the same. I write about this all the time, and yet, I always get drawn back into writing about it, because the company makes the same mistake, time and time again, and it’s beyond frustrating.
Seth Rollins, Roman Reigns, Dean Ambrose, Kevin Owens, Sami Zayn, Finn Balor, The Miz, Dolph Ziggler, Drew McIntyre, Braun Strowman, Daniel Bryan, Mustafa Ali, Andrade ‘Cien’ Almas, Bobby Roode, Chad Gable, Aleister Black, Ricochet, Tommaso Ciampa, Johnny Gargano, The Revival, The Bar, The Usos, Authors of Pain, Becky Lynch, Charlotte Flair, Alexa Bliss, Ruby Riott, The Iconics….
WWE, are you seriously telling me there aren’t enough stars in that list to construct a Wrestlemania card?
WWE, are you seriously telling me that you think your core audience would rather which a Triple H with one pec and no quads face a Hollywood actor who’s not seen a wrestling ring in five years?
WWE, are you seriously telling me that you will continue to sell your future down the river every March for the sake of a tiny bit of name recognition tinged with the bitterest nostalgia?
WWE don’t lack for stars…they lack belief in the stars they have.
This is Maverick, requesting flyby.